BACK TALK

‘Life lessons’ that really aren’t

Too many people blur the line between reality and what happens on television

Shanda Deziel January 10 2005
BACK TALK

‘Life lessons’ that really aren’t

Too many people blur the line between reality and what happens on television

Shanda Deziel January 10 2005

‘Life lessons’ that really aren’t

BACK TALK

ON POP CULTURE

Too many people blur the line between reality and what happens on television

Shanda Deziel

THE FIRST TIME I remember a TV show plot line seeping into my real life, I was seven. My grandparents and I were big fans of Dallas, and they bought me a kid-sized T-shirt with “I shot J.R.” printed on it. It seemed everyone in our small town had seen the cliffiianger, and got a kick out of that article of clothing. I wore it nearly every day for an entire summer until it was revealed that Kristin, J.R.’s sister-in-law, had actually done the deed. After that, I was no longer a suspect—and the shirt went in the closet.

We’re all guilty of picturing ourselves in our favourite shows, picking which Friends character you most resemble—hell, maybe you even got “the Rachel” haircut. But some people just don’t handle their television consumption responsibly—hence the disturbing MTV reality show I Want a Famous Face, where participants are surgically altered to resemble Brad Pitt, J. Lo or other celebrities. And while I’ve found it helpful to imagine I’m in The Amazing Race whenever I’ve got to perform a task that makes me nervous, one must refrain from applying the “skills” and “life lessons” gleaned from TV viewing to actual highdrama situations.

For instance, my sister was in a serious car accident on a major highway. Before checking for broken bones or for approaching traffic, she wrenched herself out from under the airbag, jumped out of the car and started running. Yes, she was in shock, but mostly she was thinking the car was going to blow up— because that’s what always happens on Third Watch, a show about fictional rescue workers.

On a recent trip to my

hometown, I found that the same community that indulged my Dallas fantasy was again blurring the lines of TV and reality—only this time it wasn’t for a laugh. In a tragic event last spring, a local woman went missing and was found dead a few days later. The police have ruled it a homicide, but have yet to make an arrest. It’s human nature for people to speculate on what may have happened. But thanks to our pop cultureobsessed climate, the town is now populated with a significant number of armchair detectives, forensics experts, coroners and trial lawyers who have already put the case to bed—with the skills they picked up from NYPD Blue, CSI, Crossing Jordan and Law & Order. Residents can’t believe it’s taking the real police so long to realize what they deduced in only a few days, and what Det. Andy Sipowicz would have figured out before the first commercial break.

Now, if I can play armchair analyst—after all, I’ve learned a lot from The Soprano’s Dr. Melfi—I would say these well-intentioned folk are simply trying to process something traumatic, and looking for ways to be useful in a

crisis. But infusing a

tragic event with the formulas of TV cop shows is not going to lead to an arrest any sooner than unleashing your inner Columbo is going to win you an Emmy.

Networks worry about warping the minds of young children, posting warnings about adult subject matter, violence and coarse language. But it wouldn’t hurt to add one for adults too: don’t try this at home. IJil

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